When she was a couple of months shy of 16, Lea Adams ’s father, Joel, a rare African American who carried the rank of U.S. Army colonel, took her to the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
In 1988, as a single parent, she took her 11-year-old son, Joel II, to the 25th anniversary of the march. Half a century after the original march, Adams and her husband Wally Ashby, newlyweds in their 60s, attended the march organized by the National Action Network to commemorate the ’63 March with a “national action to realize the dream.”
“Other than the obvious differences in my age and family status-my teenaged self moved a lot faster and easier, the bus ride and endless walking were a piece of cake, compared to the effort and planning that went into getting two senior citizens ready for the day,” Adams-Ashby recalled for the AFRO. “I’ve witnessed more dramatic changes in my world, in the fifty years since the first time I joined a quarter of a million people on the National Mall.”
Adams-Ashby, an adult educator, life coach and former journalist, is a lifelong Washingtonian who is no stranger to activism and protests. She has been a well-known advocate for statehood, full voting rights and home rule for the District of Columbia for as long as I can remember. She is, in fact, the lead named plaintiff in the unsuccessful 1998 federal lawsuit Adams v. Clinton which argued that the constitutional rights of District residents were being violated by Congress.
While most people were on the mall last weekend to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” Adams-Ashby had an additional mission to accomplish: lobbying for statehood for the District of Columbia.
“The morning of Aug. 24, 2013 began for me with a rally for D.C. Statehood at the D.C. War Memorial, which I am embarrassed to admit I had never visited,” she said in her joking manner. “As the rally merged into the larger march, I was reminded of an important piece of unfinished civil rights business: full and equal citizenship rights for the 600,000 disenfranchised men and women who make their homes in the District of Columbia.”
Repeating the often-spoken refrain of D.C. statehood advocates, Adams-Ashby explained, “our children still die in wars that take the lives of children from the 50 States and we still pay higher federal taxes than most of the people in the U.S.”
Yet, “we still have no level of self-governance that can’t be taken away or overturned by the Congress of the United States that defends the rights of everyone in America but us,” she continued.
The D.C. rally featured a slew of politicians and other performers to inspire the crowd. One of the speakers was D.C. former mayor Marion Barry, the sole current member of the Council of the District of Columbia who was actually at the 1963 March. Barry, who was standing in the shadow of King’s statue, said, “Martin Luther King stands there as a rebuke to us if we don’t push for something we should have had a long time ago.”
To Adams-Ashby, Barry was talking about the unfinished business on the American civil rights agenda. “[Barry] was not talking about 1963… he was talking to the living, about the here and now that directly affect our lives and our legacy.”
To that end, Adams-Ashby said, “if we who call D.C. home really believe in the democracy and freedom so many of us take for granted, if we believe we deserve the same rights of self-determination enjoyed by our fellow citizens in the 50 states we need to act like it” by reengaging in lobbying for D.C. equality.
“We need to put D.C. back into the Civil Rights Movement and keep it there until we no longer need to remind the millions of visitors who come for marches, demonstrations and other appeals for freedom on the national mall,” she said.
As hundreds of strangers left the National Mall, Adams-Ashby and her husband, who were decked out with t-shirts, caps, buttons and signs,” she started shouting to people: “Please, don’t forget about us when you get home. Help us get what the rest of America has and we deserve. “
Veteran journalist Adrienne Washington writes weekly for the AFRO about relevant issues in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia. Send correspondence to her at [email protected].